Free as a bird

Enterprises are starting to look at ways of making their organisations more flexible – both as a motivational tool and as a means of improving efficiency. Imthishan Giado talks to the CIOs brave enough to believe in change.

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Free as a bird AWCOCK: We’ve basically decided that we will use the iPhone as a major corporate tool.
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By  Imthishan Giado Published  April 19, 2010 Arabian Computer News Logo

Everyone’s guilty of this one.

It’s a thought, an idea, that’s occurred to everyone who works in a large office. It’s the perfect antidote to office politics, tiresomely long commutes, protracted meetings that go nowhere, and redundant “team-building” exercises.

Quite simply: what if I didn’t have to come here every day? What if I could work from home instead?

Now, several years ago, that thought was mere fantasy. Every enterprise out there demanded that staff be in at the crack at dawn, working in their little cubicles. Today, however, organisations understand that many employees can be just as effective on the road if they can carry their data with them and access the same applications they do at the office. In fact, they’re doing it already, though their Blackberries and through VPN access on their laptops.

But which users are best placed to be mobile? It all depends on the nature of your business. For instance, if you run a cement factory in Saudi Arabia and fill in orders directly from the factory your staff will never need to leave the office. On the hand you could an employees of engineering outfit ABB. CIO Faisal Khashouf explains that his project-focused workforce need mobile equipment – principally because it would be far too expensive to set up infrastructure in remote locations.

“These people cannot be at a desk, simple. Their job is to be on-project, on-site, remotely. If we had to do it without mobile solutions, we would have to build a big infrastructure to keep them connected. That’s going to be very costly. If we give them mobile solutions, it’s very cost effective and not that expensive at all, compared to setting a full-blown datacentre in the middle of the desert somewhere. That’s not possible because there is no connectivity and you cannot reach that place,” he confirms.

“Most of the work requires an immediate response. They have to be online to send in reports – if you are not having these kinds of facilities, then you have to delay everything until they are back in the office, which might be in a week’s time,” continues Khashouf, who reveals that 65% of his workforce is mobile.

Nevertheless, Khashouf reiterates that this is an ABB- specific scenario and that in most companies, salespeople are the best for the mobile experience.

“It cannot be for every type of business. If you have a salesforce, you don’t expect them to be sitting in the office. If you have a regional support team doing projects all the time and moving around, you don’t expect them to be in the office. Certain functions will always be in the office, such as HR or Accounting which does transactions.”

If you’re looking for an organisation which is looking to take mobile usage up a notch, look no further than Sharjah-based Al Batha Group. Saji Oomen general manager for group information technology lists the plethora of devices he has provided to mobile workers.

“We use mobile phones and tablet PCs for the salespeople. We also have robust handheld devices like Symbol 9900 terminals which can be dropped from a 3m height, dipped in 1m of water and so on – 200 of them are given to the van salespeople. Then we have the normal handheld devices for the warehouses and different logistics operations. We are using mobile devices in our retail stores for the physical inventory, goods received and for the POS applications,” he recalls.

Oomen’s 45 tablet-based devices feature GRPS connectivity so that salespeople can use a mobile version of SAP CRM to directly input their orders into their system, rather than having to come back to the office to sync devices with a desktop, like the van salespeople presently have to.

He notes that there are significant time savings to be had: “The people otherwise had to take the order in the morning, come back in the evening and give it to someone to punch into the system, which happens the next day. By the end of the day, it may be delivered. With online connectivity, the order will get pushed into the warehouse a few seconds after you confirm it, so you save a day. For the pharmaceutical products, sometimes they have SLAs of 48 hours – these are all lifesaving drugs so you can save a considerable amount of time.”

Quite apart from the element of speed, this approach also empowers salespeople with what Oomen calls a “360-degree” view of the customer: “They need to know the volumes they buy, payment history, bounced cheques, delivery response times, different times like that.

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